The Transylvania Times -

School Board Presents Budget To Commissioners

 

May 20, 2019



With a 10.5-cent property tax increase likely to be approved to pay for the $68 million school construction bond, some county commissioners are voicing concerns at the Board of Education’s latest budget request.

As previously reported, the school board’s fiscal year 2020 budget request totals $12,761,809 for the local current expense fund and $250,000 for child nutrition. The budget request represents an increase of $582,196 (4.78 percent) over the current year’s budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Last Tuesday at the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting, School Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris presented the budget request.

In his presentation, McDaris said the school system has worked hard to make its operations run as “efficient and effective as possible.”

Over the last four years, he said, the school system has identified almost $750,000 in budget cuts that have allowed the system to “stay within budgetary constraints, meet statutory requirements and align (its) strategic goals.”

He said the budget request includes similar cuts to meet the state-mandated lower-grade class size requirements, the proposed hiring of an additional English language learner (ELL) instructor for “a growing ELL population” and increases to benefits for locally paid positions due to state budget changes, which must be matched.

McDaris said that, as in recent years, the majority of the requested increase comes from state-mandated salary and benefit increases and to comply with legislative initiatives.

McDaris said the local system operates in a “competitive world” and is “constantly” trying to prevent the Henderson and Buncombe school systems from attracting teachers away from Transylvania.

Commissioner Page Lemel asked why Transylvania is losing staff to Henderson when Transylvania’s teacher supplement amount is only $100 less than Henderson’s.

McDaris, for one, questioned the accuracy of some information that is circulated and called the state superintendent’s website “not very transparent.”

He said that, as far as teacher supplements, they can vary depending on the number of veteran teachers in a school system.

A system with more veteran teachers means the salaries and the supplement will be higher.

“It’s really an apples to oranges comparison de-pending on the year,” he said.

Lemel told McDaris that said she has been “agonizing” in the days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting because the “perception is that (she is) public school enemy number one because (she is) the one who is always asking hard questions.”

“I’d like to elevate the conversation. I don’t want to get down in the weeds because the weeds are not my business,” she said. “It is the school board’s decision on how to spend the money.”

Lemel said the commissioners’ only job is to provide “sufficient local dollars” for the school system to provide a “sound basic education.”

“I’m not here to dot the ‘I’s’ and cross the ‘T’s,’ but I will say that it’s frustrating that it takes us so long to get answers to questions to try and consider our job of providing that sound and basic education,” she said.

She said it was “good” to receive answers on May 13 about the budget and other related information from the school system’s attorney (see related story) but that she had asked for the same information last June.

Lemel went on to note that for the current school year Transylvania’s per student funding is the fourth highest in the state

“That in itself tells me that Transylvania County is providing enough money for that basic and sound education, when we are behind Dare, Orange and Durham counties,” she said.

McDaris said the school system is “well supported” and that school officials “appreciate that.”

He said the standard in the school system is to “not only try to achieve excellence but also to provide our students with many things.”

There are other school systems in the state, he said, which are “envious” of the funding provided to the Transylvania school system.

For example, commissioners provide funding for the Transylvania County Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, while some other counties receive full funding from the U.S. Department of Defense.

McDaris went on to say that a “sound basic education” varies among counties and could be “very different” from what the Anson County super-intendent, as an example, believes it is.

Lemel said she knows it “varies,” but that Transylvania’s overall state ranking for the school system was 31st.

McDaris questioned how the rankings are calculated, saying the state’s school system report card is based on “poverty and special education” and the performance of impoverished students and those in special education.

It is “only a snapshot in time on a few indicators,” he said.

Lemel reiterated she believed the county is providing “sufficient funding” for education. She said the $582,196 increase in school funding is “in essence a full penny increase in the tax rate.”

“Just for the schools we are potentially looking at a hit of a 11.5 cents tax increase,” she said. “I worry that we have gotten ourselves into this ‘Team School’ and ‘Team County’(comparison), but in essence we are all Transylvania County and take pride in every single bit of Transylvania County. Schools are an important part of our county…but at a high ranking of fourth, fifth or sixth, to me that is sufficient funding. I’m trying to understand the increases, year in and year out, that are so far and above what other counties are spending on education.”

With the tax increase coming to pay for the school bond, Lemel said she couldn’t in “good conscience put another penny on our citizens for the school system this year.”

McDaris said the school system has lowered the number of employees in the last few years, while trying to save programs.

“We could lower the programmatic opportunities for students,” he said. “We could do that and save money.”

McDaris said that like Lemel the process for him “was no fun” but as far as the budget he cannot get adequate information to provide “fair comparisons” between Transylvania and other school districts.

He said Henderson County is moving to provide 14 school nurses but he can’t find the expenditures in the Henderson budget.

He said he tries to maintain what Transylvania schools has already and to recommend to the school board what “is in the best interest of the school system.”

“Why is ours higher than others when I look at what they are able to do with people?” he said. “The only answer I can come up with is… they are not paying for some things that you are.”

Commissioner Jason Chappell asked for more information about the state-mandated class-size reductions and ratios of teachers to students. The requirements are being phased-in.

Dr. Brian Weaver, the system’s assistant superintendent, said that in 2022 the ratio will be one teacher to 18 for kindergarten; one to 16 for first grade; one to 17 for second grade; and one to 17 for third grade. An additional student to a class, for example, could require hiring an additional teacher.

Commissioner Mike Hawkins asked if there is a “buffer” for each classroom.

Weaver said he cannot “really answer” because things vary school to school and classroom to classroom.

This school year, two K-3rd grade teachers have been added and the system is one student away from having to hire an additional teacher, he said.

The challenge, Weaver said, is that there is “no way to predict on day one of school or on day 20 or in May of a school year what your enrollment is going to be. There are a lot of variables that we do not control.”

Since 2013, Weaver said, each position that is lost because of retirement or resignation is evaluated. He said that 36 full-time positions have been reduced since 2013, and that when someone does retire or resign it can impact programs.

Like Lemel, Hawkins cited the level of financial support the school system has been receiving and where it ranks statewide.

“I do get the challenges you have and the budgetary uncertainty,” he said. “It’s a legitimate issue.”

He said the county and its 23 different departments also face budgetary uncertainty but also “estimate” and use “past performances.”

He said there is “frustration” when the school system says it has “no idea” on class size. He believes school officials can look at the historic record and estimate what may happen.

“It’s what the county does,” he said, while indicating he would “take to heart” the idea of “being in (the school officials’) shoes as he considers their budget request.

School Board Chairwoman Tawney McCoy thanked the commissioners for its funding and the public for approving the bond and that the school board makes decisions for what is “best” for Transylvania County students.

“We all care about our schools,” Lemel said in response. “We believe in our schools, and we want our schools to be successful. We truly do.”

Hawkins thanked the school officials and recognized they have a “hard job.”

Ashe County Comparison

In a memo to commissioners, County Manager Jaime Laughter said the county compared education spending between Transylvania and Ashe counties.

Ashe is located North of Boone and has a population of roughly 27,000.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, Transylvania County received a total in local, state and federal funding of roughly $40.59 million while Ashe received roughly $32.46 million.

Among the other findings:

•A large portion of the difference between Transylvania’s expenditures and Ashe’s expenditures falls underneath “other capital outlay,” which accounted for 34.57 percent of the total difference in expenditures between the two counties.

•The largest difference in expenditures — 45.14 percent — between the two counties is accounted for under “salaries.”

•The only individual expenditure line where Ashe significantly (greater than $500,000 difference) out spent Transylvania was “computer equipment – inventoried” under “supplies and materials.” The difference was equal to $595,810.

•In comparison, Transylvania had five individual expenditure lines that were equal to or greater than $500,000: “teacher,” “supplement/supplementary pay,” “employer’s retirement cost – regular,” “contracted services” and “other capital outlay.”

These individual expen-diture line differences in total equal 89.65 percent of the total expenditure difference between the two counties.

During his presentation, McDaris mentioned the memo and said that on “many levels” Ashe is a “fair comparison” with Transylvania.

McDaris said he had done his own research on Ashe County and how it compares:

•Transylvania County has an Average Daily Membership (the number of days a student is in membership at a school divided by the number of days in a school month or year) that is 400 to 500 students higher than Ashe County.

•The average annual teacher supplement in Transylvania is $3,757. In Ashe, it’s $500. The average principal supplement in Transylvania is $5,749. In Ashe, it’s $4,848.

•The estimated median age in Ashe is 47 compared to 51 in Transylvania.

•The average SAT score for Ashe is 1,085, while for Transylvania, it’s 1,109. McDaris said Transylvania also has a higher percentage of high school graduates and a higher number of those with at least a bachelor’s degree.

•In the overall education ranking from the public school forum, Ashe is 48th and Transylvania is 31st.

In third-grade reading proficiency, Ashe is listed as 17th, while Transylvania is 14th. In math I proficiency, Ashe is 75th and Transylvania is 14th.

Ashe has 12 central office administrators. Transylvania has been operating for the past six months with nine, but, technically, has 10, McDaris said.

•Ashe is considered 84.9 percent rural, while Transylvania is 59.6 percent. McDaris said he considers Transylvania to be entirely rural, but the federal government defines the county as an “urban cluster” because of it proximity to Asheville.

•In 2017, the median value of an occupied house in Ashe was $150,000. In Transylvania, it was over $200,000. The median gross rent in Transylvania is about $680 a month. In Ashe, it’s $641. Ashe has nearly 150 more manufacturing jobs than Transylvania. In 2016, the average median worker pay was $22,254 in Ashe. In Transylvania, it was $21,859.

•The percentage of children in poor or low-income homes in Ashe was 51 percent. In Transylvania, it was 60 percent. In Ashe, 6.1 percent of its children are without health insurance. In Transylvania, it’s 8.3 percent.

“When you compare counties, it is healthy, but understand that every county is unique and different,” McDaris said. “Our needs may not be the same as Ashe County’s.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, only Chappell, Hawkins and Lemel were in attendance. Commissioner David Guice didn’t attend, according to Hawkins, because his wife was having back surgery. No reason was mentioned why Commissioner Will Cathey didn’t attend. Commissioners will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, when Laughter will present her recommended budget for the 2019/2020 fiscal year. Commissioners will hold a budget workshop during a May 28 meeting.

Public hearings on the budget will be held during the commissioners’ June 10 and June 24 meetings. Commissioners are scheduled to approve the final budget at the June 24 meeting.

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting:

•Commissioners heard a presentation about the Get Set Transylvania receiving the National Association of County Commissioners 2019 Achievement Award.

•Commissioners approved changing their meeting schedule, beginning July 1, from 9 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month to 4 p.m. on the second Monday of the month; and the 7 p.m. meeting on the fourth Monday of the month to 6 p.m. on the same day.

•Commissioners approved a proclamation designating May 19-25 as Emergency Medical Services Week.

•Commissioners approved $104, 212 for the 2019-20 funding plan for the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

In her manager’s report, Laughter said:

•Census 2020 is already hiring. Those interested in a temporary job can apply online at http://www.2020census.gov/jobs. Every person counted in the county nets in over $1,600 in federal dollars that come back to the county through different funding streams and programs.

•Freeandclear.com mortgage did a nationwide study evaluating housing affordability by examining median home values, median household income and the median home price based on incomes. They evaluated all 3,142 counties nationwide and ranked them. Transylvania County ranked 95 for affordability among North Carolina’s 100 counties 2,906 out of all counties in the country.

•The Connestee solid waste convenience site will be closed for repairs to the retaining wall through May 25.

 
 

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